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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

North Carolina's new "Laura's Law"

And now recent news in the world of Raleigh DWI law from the perspective of a Raleigh DWI Attorney.  The North Carolina Legislation passed a new law referred to as "Laura's Law.'  This law, officially called House Bill 49, was signed into existence by Governor Purdue on June 23, 2011.  Created to added a greater degree of punishment then was previously available, this law seeks to increase jail time, fines as well as post-release requirements for those with certain, severe factors weighing against them.

This law was written in response to the tragic death of Laura Fortenberry.  Ms. Fortenberry, 17, was killed when the vehicle she was riding in was struck head on by Howard Pasour, who was intoxicated.  At the time of the accident, Mr. Pasour had three previous convictions of DWI on his record.

The new law now adds a 6th level of sentencing to the 1-5 levels previously available.  Referred to as "Aggrevated Level 1," this new level permits fines up to $10,000 with a jail sentence range between 12 months and 36 months.  The defendant would not be eligible for release any sooner then four months before the maximum range they were sentenced to.  Additionally, if the sentence is suspended (meaning the jail time the defendant is sentenced to is suspended on condition they meet other requirements), the defendant is still required to be imprisoned for 120 days.  Finally, upon release, the defendant is under supervised probation and required to abstain from alcohol consumption.  To ensure they do, the court requires they wear an alcohol monitoring device around their ankle for the four months; the cost of which is the defendant's burden to bear.

In order to be subject to this 'Aggravated Level 1' sentencing, the defendant must have three or more what is referred to as "grossly aggravating factors.  Under North Carolina law, the level of sentencing a DWI defendant faces depends on three things: mitigating factors, aggravating factors, and grossly aggravating factors.  Future blogs will cover these sentencing considerations in more depth, but for the purpose of this blog, grossly aggravating factors are: Prior DWI conviction in the previous 7 years, Driving While License Revoked conviction when the revocation was for impaired driving, serious injury to another caused by the defendant's impaired driving, and either:
  1. a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle at the time of the offense (for offenses that occur before December 1, 2011), or
  2. a child under the age of 18 in the vehicle at the time of the offense (for offenses that occur on or after December 1, 2011).
Prior to this new law, the worst someone with three grossly aggravating factors could face is a Level 1 sentence.  Level 1 consists of a fine up to $4,000, imprisonment between 30 days and 24 months.  If the active sentence is suspended, the defendant must be imprisoned for 30 days.

And now for some perspective.  As a Raleigh DWI attorney, I applaud this law.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not thinking in contrary to clients bests interests.  And if any of my clients face an Aggrevated Level 1, I will fight for the very best outcome possible, as I would for any of my other clients.  That being said, most DWI charges are a one-time thing.  Most people caught on their first DWI are not repeat offenders.  Unfortunately, like the rest of the criminal justice system, the Government relies heavily on the ignorance of the general public.  Too many people just do not understand the severity of a DWI charge and how easily one can be had.  So, they risk that one last drink, get behind the wheel, and get busted.  But, as most anyone ever charged with a DWI will tell you, it is an awful and VERY expense experience they do not ever intend to repeat.  As such, this law was not written for the general public, it was written for those who have serious drinking issues that haven't faced a severe enough consequence to deter them from continuing their action.  My hope is, with this new sentencing level serving as a deterrent, there will be very few that end up having to face it.